By Kelly Irwin
Winter maintenance on hounds begins long before winter drops its first snowflake. Well-conditioned dogs will fare better in the long term than hounds that aren’t. Late fall, after bear hounding for the last five months, the dogs get a short rest while deer season is on. During this time, to keep their mind and body strong, we exercise in a large 40 x 300 foot chain link pen. This also allows for all the hounds to interact with each other, and us and occasionally, hunt the elusive field mouse if they choose. A body in motion stays in motion, and this accounts for dogs as well. As soon as deer season is over we are pursuing fisher and bobcat with the dogs.
As colder weather sets in there are a few things we do to keep the hounds happy and healthy. Insulated doghouses with flapped doors are critical, especially in the North. Bedding is just as important. We start with a first layer of shavings to provide a base, topped with a fluffy layer of straw. Less is more with straw, and adding to the doghouse every couple days in colder weather will assure the warmth is there. We use straw over hay, as straw is hollow stemmed and holds heat more efficiently. Once the straw is broken down or wet, the bedding must be removed and new bedding added. I love changing dog bedding and seeing the excitement in the dogs as they jump into their cozy houses. On extreme cold days or nights, I will kennel dogs together to keep each other warm. Here in Maine temperatures can dip well below zero.
Another thing we can do for our hounds not just in the winter, but year round is to keep their living quarters free of waste. This not only provides a clean living for the dog, but also keeps them less likely to acquire worms or other parasites from it. If cleaned up daily, there is also less chance of stepping in it!
Routine worming year round will keep your dog healthy on the inside our. We worm with Iverhart monthly here. If your dog is interacting with harvested bears, bobcats or lions, there is a great chance he will ingest a flea or parasite of some sort from the wild parasite. Keeping him on the routine will prevent any huge worm infestation that you will have to deal with later. These hounds are so valuable; maintenance on the front end is cheaper than waiting until an issue arises.
Feeding in winter months is so important. There is so much to learn in the world of dog feed, and everyone has their own choice on what they feed and what works for them. We feed Inukshuk 26-16 year round. Some may say that isn’t enough protein or fat. It works for my hounds very well. It is 430 kcals per cup. I’m feeding a 65-pound dog three cups daily and he maintains on that. I also feed warm wet kibble in winter months to assure water intake. Dogs are fed twice daily. Each feeding the dog is assessed. Did he run today? What are the temperatures? How does he look? I will feed more or less depending. Fresh water daily, sometimes twice, as water is hydration and hydration helps keep a body warm and working. One way you can tell if your hound may need more water intake is their urine. A dark yellow colored urine will indicate dehydration; a pale yellow assures the hound is getting plenty drink.
Boredom can set in during the winter months for you or your hound. Here are a few ideas that can help you and your dog cope with the season. First, if you have creatures that are huntable in winter months I would start there. If you don’t or you don’t have the time, there’s more fun things you can do. Skijoring is a fun past time with a hound. This is a combination of cross country skiing and dog sledding. Buy a harness and a long line, put on the skis and let him pull! Pulling a sled is fun too for kids. A good snowshoe walk is great for both you and the hound. Wait for deep snow and make a nice trail. Your dog will learn to follow nicely as your tracks are way easier than plowing through 2 feet of snow. Cow hooves are great for boredom as well. Even the most vigorous chewer will have hours of enjoyment with this totally digestible treat. They are usually available at your local feed store or online.
Remember, dogs like to earn their dinner. Dogs love rules and boundaries. It makes them feel whole inside and happy with themselves. Don’t let your hardworking summer hound become stagnant in the colder months. Keep him happy and healthy and ready for spring training!!